Domestic abuse guidance issued to courts

Sentencing Council issues guidance to courts on domestic abuse emphasising the seriousness of this kind of offending

Published on 24th February 2018

New guidance has been issued to courts by the Sentencing Council about domestic abuse, emphasising the seriousness of this kind of offending.

There is no specific crime of domestic abuse although it can be a feature of many offences, such as assault, sexual offences or harassment. There is an offence of controlling and coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship which the Sentencing Council is working on a guideline for and will be published in the summer.

The new guideline which updates previous guidance published in 2006, aims to ensure that the seriousness of these offences is properly taken into account when such offences are being sentenced and that sufficient thought is also given to the need to address the offender’s behaviour and prevent reoffending.

‘Domestic abuse’ is now the term used, rather than ‘domestic violence’, to reflect that offences can involve psychological, sexual, financial or emotional abuse as well as physical violence.

The previous guideline stated that offences committed in a domestic context should be seen as no less serious than those in a non-domestic context, whereas the new guideline emphasises that the fact an offence took place in a domestic context makes it more serious. This is because domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident, it is likely to become increasingly frequent and more serious the longer it continues, and may result in death. It can also lead to lasting trauma for victims and their children.

For the first time, the guideline also includes a reference to abuse which is perpetrated through use of technology, such as email/text, social networking sites or tracking devices fitted to a victim’s car, since these are increasingly common methods by which domestic abuse can occur. There is now additional guidance on restraining orders, along with new guidance on Victim Personal Statements.

Sentencing Council member Jill Gramann said: “Domestic abuse comes in many forms such as harassment, assault and sex offences. The increasing use of technology in offending has meant that it has also evolved in its scope and impact. The new guideline will ensure that courts have the information they need to deal with the great range of offending and help prevent further abuse occurring.”

“The guideline also emphasises that abuse can take place in a wide range of domestic settings and relationships, and that abuse can be psychological, sexual, financial or emotional as well as physical.”

The publication of the guideline follows a public consultation which also covered proposed new guidelines for a variety of ‘intimidatory’ offences, such as harassment, stalking, disclosing private sexual images, controlling or coercive behaviour, and threats to kill. The definitive guidelines for these offences will be published separately this summer.

This guideline will apply to all offenders aged 16 and older sentenced on or after 24 May 2018.

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